Friday, October 28, 2016

H2O + ? (Days 50-51)

Learning Module 5 of the Illinois State text is called "H2O + ?" -- and this is the first learning module that differs in the three grade level texts. As usual for the blog, my focus is on the eighth grade text.

In this project, students learn about large numbers such as one million. They count out grains of rice in order to estimate how much space a million grains of rice will take. Then there are discussion questions regarding other millions of objects (such as staples), which leads to the notion of scientific notation and powers of ten. Finally, students are to learn about the notion of "parts per million" concentration in water -- hence the name of the project.

Notice that this is the project that lines up better with scientific notation. Recall that I began the year by having a weekly period for eighth grade science. On Wednesdays, I would give a lesson from Sarah Carter's blog -- and she started the year with a unit on scientific notation. That weekly science period fell by the wayside when the music schedule was changed (as I mentioned in Tuesday's post).

Obviously, it would have been more logical to wait until now for the scientific notation lesson. But at the time, I was at a loss regarding what to teach during the science period.

Meanwhile, the sixth grade project is called "Time Travel." In some ways, this is a misnomer, since the part of the project where students create a time line about the history of transportation is the least important part. On Wednesday, Dr. Brad Christensen of Illinois State told me that I could just give the second part of the project, where students create paper/cardboard wheels of various circumferences and roll them simultaneously in order to find the least common multiple of their sizes.

I mentioned yesterday that I delayed the seventh grade quiz to today. This meant that the seventh graders won't begin their project, called "Orienteering," until next week. In this project, students basically create a scavenger hunt in which compass directions are used in the instructions. According to Christensen, this is best done outside. Part of my decision in delaying the quiz and thus the project was the threat of rain today. As it turned out, it rained a little in the morning when I had the sixth graders, but it seemed to taper off by the time the seventh graders arrived.

Today I found out a little more about the upcoming Benchmark Test. First of all, all the Benchmarks are to be found on the Illinois State website -- so they're not identical to the August Benchmarks. And each Benchmark covers five standards, one from each strand. Here are the standards covered on the upcoming eighth grade Benchmark Test:

Know that numbers that are not rational are called irrational. Understand informally that every number has a decimal expansion; for rational numbers show that the decimal expansion repeats eventually, and convert a decimal expansion which repeats eventually into a rational number.

Know and apply the properties of integer exponents to generate equivalent numerical expressions. For example, 32 × 3-5 = 3-3 = 1/33 = 1/27.

Compare properties of two functions each represented in a different way (algebraically, graphically, numerically in tables, or by verbal descriptions). For example, given a linear function represented by a table of values and a linear function represented by an algebraic expression, determine which function has the greater rate of change.

Understand that a two-dimensional figure is congruent to another if the second can be obtained from the first by a sequence of rotations, reflections, and translations; given two congruent figures, describe a sequence that exhibits the congruence between them.

Construct and interpret scatter plots for bivariate measurement data to investigate patterns of association between two quantities. Describe patterns such as clustering, outliers, positive or negative association, linear association, and nonlinear association.

The idea that all three trimesters should contain standards from each of the five strands is tough. To me, it's a little easier if all of the, say, Expressions and Equations standards are either all given at once or at least split logically (for example, exponents in one trimester, systems in another). There's less continuity if all five strands are squeezed into one trimester.

Again, I had no warning of this. You'd think that since Illinois State provides both a "pacing plan" and the Benchmark Tests, the pacing plan would correspond to the tests. But they don't -- Statistics and Probability appear late in the year on the pacing plan yet also on the first Benchmark! Oh, and notice that the Statistics and Probability standards lean more towards stats here, so the probability song I'm singing now (Ghost of a Chance) doesn't really help the students here either.

Notice that so far, I've already taught two of the standards -- it helped that the Number System is a short strand, and so I was able to get into exponents. My plan is to squeeze in the other three standards once each day next week -- Functions on Wednesday, Geometry on Thursday, and then Statistics and Probability on Friday. This is not ideal -- it takes much more than one day to master any of these standards.

We're actually much better off in eighth grade than in sixth or seventh grade. This is because Ratios and Proportional Relationships is such a long standard that I never started a second standard. So now I'm forced to squeeze in four standards next week for these students, beginning on Tuesday with the Number System.

This now means that I have less time for the seventh grade project -- contrary to my belief yesterday that we're further behind in eighth grade than in seventh. It doesn't help that coding on Mondays takes away my ability to cover standards this Monday and next. This also means that I must cut off the sixth grade project.

In fact, this Monday is Halloween, and each class is supposed to come up with an idea for some sort of a carnival booth -- but I'm stumped for ideas. Well, perhaps I could come up with a scavenger hunt that requires compasses. This solves both the seventh grade project problem (allowing me to give the project on coding Monday) and the booth problem. I just hope it doesn't rain that day!

This is a two-day post. My next post will be on Tuesday, November 1st.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Quiz #3 (Day 49)

There are many issues on my mind today, and so I have plenty of things to discuss here on the blog in this post.

For starters, yesterday was the meeting with Dr. Brad Christensen of Illinois State. He told me that one of the STEM projects I'd done was incomplete. I noticed in the Illinois State text that the most recent project, "Learning to Communicate," started out with the oblique and isometric drawings again, but then it started mentioning the mousetrap cars again! Christensen explained that in this case, students were supposed to create their own mousetrap cars (or even mousetrap boats) from scratch, as opposed to using the parts supplied by the company.

But Christensen informed me that it's okay to move on to the next two projects, which he explained should get us through Thanksgiving. Remember that all projects from now on are different for the three grade levels. He told me that the next project for seventh grade is definitely an outdoor activity, and so it won't be a good idea to do the project tomorrow, when rain is in the forecast.

In yesterday's post, I wrote that today is damage control day for the seventh grade class. As it turns out, there was no actual sub -- I guess I should've known that it wasn't really worth it to call in a sub just for two hours. So my support staff member took over the class -- fortunately she was present yesterday (but not today though). Still, just as I feared, the seventh graders come in today with some of them claiming that my support staff member never gave them the homework assignment, which is almost certainly false. But since she's out today, I couldn't confirm my suspicion, and so I delay the seventh grade quiz to tomorrow. As I said, it's just as well, since tomorrow's originally scheduled seventh grade project might be rained out.

I do give the quizzes to sixth and eighth grades today. As it turns out, all of my eighth graders end up passing the quiz on square roots and cube roots, which is wonderful! Since today is the third quiz, I can now drop the lowest quiz score, and so this should help out the students' grades.

Yesterday was a day full of meetings. After my meeting with Christensen, I met with the special ed teacher to discuss a few students and their records, and then it was off to the Common Planning meeting, which was held at the other campus affiliated with our charter school. At this meeting there was one item of major concern to me -- the upcoming Benchmark Tests.

As I mentioned on the blog back in August, the first Benchmark Test was given at the beginning of the school year, and according to a school calendar handed to us at the early PD meetings, the other two Benchmark Tests are supposed to be given in January and May. But suddenly, we're being told that the next test is going to be in November, at the end of the trimester!

In some ways, November is a more logical time to give the Benchmark Test. The January and May dates would be more logical at a semester school, not a trimester school -- almost as if administration couldn't decide whether to use semesters or trimesters when printing the calendar. I just wish that there could have been more clarification at the start of the year so that the tests aren't suddenly being sprung up on us -- especially since these tests count in the trimester grade!

But the huge problem I have is the content of the Benchmark Test. According to the administration, it should be identical to the first Benchmark Test, so that comparisons can be made. I didn't explain the test fully in August, but the eighth grade test, for example, contains all of the standards for the Number System and Expressions and Equations strands. We've already covered all of the Number System standards and started the Expressions and Equations standards, but look at just some of the missing standards:

Use numbers expressed in the form of a single digit times an integer power of 10 to estimate very large or very small quantities, and to express how many times as much one is than the other. For example, estimate the population of the United States as 3 times 108 and the population of the world as 7 times 109, and determine that the world population is more than 20 times larger.

Graph proportional relationships, interpreting the unit rate as the slope of the graph. Compare two different proportional relationships represented in different ways. For example, compare a distance-time graph to a distance-time equation to determine which of two moving objects has greater speed.

Solve linear equations in one variable.

Analyze and solve pairs of simultaneous linear equations.

Ouch! That's a lot to cover in the short amount of time before the Benchmark Tests! Again, I suppose it's logical that the August and November Benchmarks would be identical, and so perhaps I could have guessed that I should have tried to cover everything in the August Benchmark, but still, I'd have preferred being told explicitly that everything on the first Benchmark should be taught by November.

Illinois State does provide us with a "pacing guide" online. But this pacing guide, for one thing, doesn't assign a date to any of the standards. It's also inconsistent -- the guide has us jumping around both the STEM and traditional texts. I tried just doing all of the projects in the naive order given in the STEM text. I also moved in the naive order in the traditional texts, since the pacing guide doesn't work well until we get past the first four projects (which we just barely finished).

More importantly, the pacing guide doesn't tell us how to prepare the students for the Benchmark tests -- which, as you recall, are also provided by Illinois State! To meet the Benchmarks, it might have been better to follow the traditional text in naive order, since both the Benchmarks and the traditional text simply follow the order given in the Common Core Standards (the Number System early, Statistics and Probability last).

And so now I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place. If I try to cram through all the material before the Benchmark Tests, students will never be able to understand anything. There's basically only two weeks left before the Benchmark -- I can easily spend two weeks on systems of equations alone! But if I don't cram in the material, students will be frustrated when they see things they never learned on a test that counts in their grade. And this seems to undermine the Illinois State philosophy -- students are motivated to learn math in order to complete the projects, not just to pass a test!

Indeed, at the time the Benchmark Test was announced, there were only about ten days of possible learning left before the test. Today I blow one of those days with the quiz, and then tomorrow I'll blow another day with the project. So that's 20% of the days before the test already lost -- and who knows how many days the project will last!

If you remember from August, the seventh grade Benchmark is shorter than those for the either sixth or eighth grade. That's another reason why I didn't mind delaying the seventh grade quiz -- there's less to cover before the Benchmark. But even then, the missing standard is a big one -- the addition and subtraction of integers.

By the way, back in August, I did try to ask the fifth grade teacher about the Benchmarks and pacing, since that's the closest I could get to a fellow math teacher. But even she didn't know exactly what the pacing should be.

I've been told that this Benchmark Test should be included in the grades -- but not specifically what the percentage should be. We know that 40% of the grade is for tests and projects -- and to make it easier, I have 1000 points per trimester. This upcoming project is the fifth, and with 20 points per project, that's 100 points. So the other 300 points are for the actual tests. I've given three tests at 100 points each, but my plan was always to drop the lowest score. I assume that we can't drop the Benchmark Test, so I can just drop the lowest of the three tests already given. Combined with the dropping of the lowest quiz score today, students should see their grades rise.

Meanwhile, let's get into today's song. It is Ghost of a Chance, a Square One TV song. I chose this song for two reasons. First, today is the tenth anniversary of its posting on YouTube. Second, it's basically a parody of Michael Jackson's Thriller, thus making it a Halloween-type song.

Here are the lyrics, courtesy Barry Carter:

Ghost Of A Chance

Lead vocals by Cris Franco and Reg E. Cathey

One night on a Pizza Shack delivery
I walked into this spooky house
And just as I was yelling “Two with anchovies!”
The door slammed and the lights went out
Started shouting, “Someone owes me fourteen ten!”
And then I heard a creepy voice
Boy, you’ll never see the Pizza Shack again
Unless you make the proper choice
Don’t you mess with me
Help me make the most of a chance
Might be win or lose
Still I’ve got to choose
Long as there’s a ghost of a chance
There are four dusty bookcases right over there
One of them’s a secret door
Go ahead and try one of them, if you dare
Your chance is only one in four
Did a little eenie, meenie, miney, moe
Pulled the third with all my might
Probability of one-fourth is low
But lucky thing I got it right
Don’t you mess with me
Help me make the most of a chance
Might be win or lose
Still I’ve got to choose
Long as there’s a ghost of a chance
Walked in to a hallway full of rattlesnakes
Only five are real ones; forty-five are fakes
Chance is five in fifty that I’m gonna croak
Chances are you thought this was a lark, a joke!
Don’t you mess with me
Help me make the most of a chance
Might be win or lose
Still I’ve got to choose
Long as there’s a ghost of a chance
Found myself inside an old Egyptian tomb
Open up the mummy case
Behold the seven keys he clutches in the gloom
Three will let you blow this place
Three in seven chance to pick a key that fits
I picked one of the four that don’t
But now the probability becomes three-sixths;
Three will work and three still won’t
Son, you’ve earned your freedom; here are twelve ways out
Eleven lead you to your truck
But what about the one in twelve? My boy, don’t pout;
Good luck; here’s your fourteen bucks
Probability of one-twelfth is slim
The guy was finally being nice
But that’s the one he chose, and I’m so pleased for him
The pizza’s for my poltergeist
Don’t you mess with me
Help me make the most of a chance
Might be win or lose
Still I’ve got to choose
Long as there’s a ghost of a chance
Don’t you mess with me
Help me make the most of a chance
Might be win or lose
Still I’ve got to choose
Long as there’s a ghost of a chance
(fade out)

It's too bad, though, that the subject of this song is probability -- Statistics and Probability is the last strand of the Common Core, so it won't appear on the November Benchmark. Otherwise, this song could have helped them prepare for it.

Expect to hear much about the November Benchmark in my next few posts.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Student Journal and Whiteboard Review (Days 47-48)

Well, the visitors from the charter office arrive in my classroom after lunch. This is during Math Intervention time, and sixth graders are using the computer at this time. Fortunately, all of us teachers have our classrooms ready for the visitors.

Now that this visit is complete, the focus now switches from preparing my room for the observation to preparing my class for the day I'm out with a meeting. Yes, Dr. Brad Christensen of Illinois State will be meeting me to discuss the text and the STEM projects from 10:30-12:30 tomorrow.

First of all, it's time to deal with our weekly Wednesday madness -- it seems as if every week, the Wednesday schedule is different! As it turns out, the music teacher is going to be out of town for two weeks, returning on November 9th -- apparently he said this directly to the students last week and didn't inform any of us teachers (recall that I didn't see him last week at all due to the first Illinois State observation).

Without music on the schedule, my Wednesday might look like this:

8:25 - 9:15 6th Grade
9:20 - 10:10 8th Grade (online software for science?)
10:15 - 11:05 8th Grade
11:05 - 11:20 Nutrition
11:25 - 12:15 7th Grade
12:15 - 12:45 Assembly (there's always one the last Wednesday of the month)
12:45 Dismissal to lunch, teachers prepare for Common Planning meeting

Notice that when the music teacher is here, seventh graders have music in my room after nutrition, and eighth graders have music during the "science" period in the history room. When this happens, I once took the seventh graders instead so they wouldn't fall a day behind.

On the other hand, when the music teacher is out, I have an extra hour with eighth grade. Again, in the past, I've used that extra period for science, since eighth graders have an NGSS test.

My original plan for tomorrow, according to the pacing plan, was to have a whiteboard review lesson before giving the Module 4 Quiz on Thursday, which is Day 49. Before I found out about the music situation, I wanted to take the seventh graders in during eighth grade music. This way, I get to see all three grades before the Illinois State meeting. But now the cancellation of music throws a wrench in things -- the seventh graders only have my class during the time I'm out.

Now here's the other thing -- I don't know whether there will actually be a sub or not! When I ask the administration about a sub today, I don't receive a straight answer. It could be that my support staff member will be leading the class tomorrow. The worst-case scenario is that she could be out too -- in which case there should be a sub present. The history teacher has already told me that he'd come in for a minute or so to make sure that the students are working.

Indeed, the history teacher had suggested that I not give a whiteboard lesson, since students would take advantage of a sub and just draw whatever they want on the boards. Come to think of it, only once during my own days as a sub had I ever been directed to give a whiteboard lesson -- and it was the case where students wrote their responses in a game of Jeopardy on the boards (at a continuation school with other support staff present). Instead, it would be much better just to give them questions on a worksheet.

So my plan is to give the sixth graders the whiteboard lesson, as well as the eighth graders from their arrival time until 10:30 (so there is no science lesson). Then the eighth graders spend the last 30 minutes of class completing the worksheets, and the seventh graders will spend the entire time working on them.

Meanwhile, this also messes up the homework plan that I mentioned in yesterday's post. I didn't realize that I wouldn't see my seventh graders at all tomorrow. Suddenly a sub might have to be the one to collect all of the homework. Even though I warned them today that the work is due tomorrow, I can easily see -- and this is from my experience as a sub myself -- the students telling tomorrow's sub that the work is due Friday and refusing to turn in the work. In this case such a reaction would be understandable -- the very first time I make homework due on a Wednesday is also the first time that I'm not in the classroom on Wednesday.

Between today's charter office visit and tomorrow's meeting, there's much on my mind, but not too much that I couldn't write today's song:


Square root of 1 is 1,
Hey, this is so much fun.
Square root of 4 is 2,
So here's what we should do.
Square root of 9 is 3,
So let's all come and see.
Square root of 16 is 4,
So please show us some more.
Square root of 25 is 5,
And now I feel so alive,
Square root of 36 is 6,
So now there ain't no more tricks.

Cube root of 1 is 1,
Hey, this is so much fun.
Cube root of 8 is 2,
So here's what we should do.
Cube root of 27 is 3,
So let's all come and see.
Cube root of 64 is 4,
So please show us some more.
Cube root of 125 is 5,
And now I feel so alive,
Cube root of 216 is 6,
So now there ain't no more tricks.

The "Day in the Life" blogger whose monthly posting day is the 25th is Leigh Nataro, who works at a private high school in Pennsylvania:

It's interesting that a teacher whose username is mathteacher24 would choose the 25th as her monthly posting day -- but yesterday's teacher likely already took the 24th before Nataro could claim it. Now she hasn't written her October 25th post yet, but here's a very relevant post of hers from earlier:

Officially this is Nataro's September 25th post, but she didn't post it until October 1st. Notice that the 25th is always exactly one week after my own posting day of the 18th, and so we were both stuck with Sundays in September. She chose to write about the next day, Monday 9/26, instead. (After all, I almost did the same thing, devoting most of my Sunday 9/18 post to the Friday 9/16 field trip.)

But look at the subject of Nataro's post -- "Damage Control: the Day After a Sub." She writes:

This post will be about Monday, September 26th, or as I like to call the day after being out, "Damage Control Day".  Experience has taught me that sometimes only a portion of what is listed is done.  Creating plans based on the assumption that the sub would know math is usually not a good idea.

And so it's only fitting that I read this post just before my own sub day tomorrow. Apparently, I need to watch out for my own "Damage Control Day" on Thursday. Nataro writes that she was lucky enough to have a math teacher as a sub. (As a sub last year, I did try to take math positions if any were available, but most of the time it wasn't a math position, as you saw by reading this blog.)

On the other hand, I should expect to need a Damage Control Day, since I'm not even sure whether I'll even have any sub, much less a math sub!

I'm also starting to wonder with all of this mess concerning the whiteboard review and homework, whether I should just give the quiz on Friday instead of Thursday, at least for seventh grade. Notice that Nataro actually did give a test the first day she returned:

C Period - PreCalculus (40 minutes)
Today is the first test of the year in PreCalculus.  There are 4 sections of PreCalc and we have created 4 versions of the test.  As I write my answer key as the students take the test, I notice that there is an error on one of the 4 versions of the test!  The problem can still be solved, but it isn't a comparable question in terms of difficulty.  Ugh!  Even working together with a colleague on the test over a period of two days, we didn't catch this glitch.

But again, she had a math sub who could help the Pre Calc students prepare. I must assume that I'll need Damage Control as my seventh graders will come up with all sorts of excuses why they won't be able to take the quiz on Thursday.

And besides, there's another reason why I could wait until Friday to give the quiz. Notice that Friday, being Day 50, is the first day of Module #5 and a new STEM project. But this project may require the students to go outside -- and rain is in the forecast for Friday. So pushing the quiz (which they can take indoors) back to Friday could push the outdoor activity back to, hopefully, a dry day. (This is not to mention that seventh grade already lost a day due to last week's earthquake drill!)

This is a two-day post -- and I really did spend it discussing both days (between today's visitation and tomorrow's meeting). There's no post tomorrow due to it being Day 48, a multiple of three -- not because of the possible sub situation. My next post will be Thursday.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Coding: The Reduced Video Project (Day 46)

Today is another coding Monday. In the past two weeks, the coding teacher has cancelled the video project due to the unavailability of the cameras. So instead, the students will edit videos created by students from last year to create their own new video on cyberbullies. So at least the students get the experience of working with video -- which is actually the most important part of the lesson, not the acting in front of the camera part.

Meanwhile, seventh graders continue to use Scratch to create a video game. Sixth graders are working on creating an infographic to display data.

So as another non-math day passes, I will devote today's post to other issues. First, today my second Bruin Corps member arrives. She will be in my classroom on Mondays and Fridays. As it turns out, she is a sociology major -- and I should have known that she would be in the social sciences as soon as I saw her schedule. You see, I remember from my own days at UCLA that "North Campus" majors in the humanities and social sciences have classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays while "South Campus" majors in the sciences have classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This is why the bio major is in my room on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Therefore my students will have plenty of help in the classroom almost everyday -- well, at least for the next five months. You see, the sociology major is a senior who's scheduled to graduate one quarter early -- at the end of Winter Quarter rather than Spring Quarter. So I assume that she'll be gone at the end of March.

The other big thing on my mind now is tomorrow's visit by the LAUSD charter offices. All of us teachers have been frantically setting up our classrooms in an effort to impress the visitors. For example, the wall where I post student work is deemed incomplete because some of the tests there are over a month old, and there are no Common Core standards posted right next to the work. For some strange reason, the English teacher is worse off -- she's required to redo the entire bulletin board!

The "Day in the Life" blogger whose monthly posting day is the 24th is Brian Palacios:

Palacios is a New York high school math teacher. He hasn't made his October 24th post yet, but here's a link to one of his posts about tests and homework. I find this post interesting because right now, I'm struggling with the homework as well:

Palacios writes:

  • First off, terminology. Formally known as exams, I now call these summative assessments ‘checkpoints’ to further establish a low-stakes classroom culture. It feels much less formal, but I still reference them as ‘exams’ when in a rush. Plus, my frustration with the [New York State] Regents exams is at an all-time high, so distancing myself and my students from any term that references them is a good thing.
Let's skip down to see what he says about the homework:

  • Homework assignments are two-fold. First, students will have daily assignments from our unit packet that are checked for completion the next day. Second, they will have a DeltaMath assignment that is due at the end of the unit, again, checked for completion.
First of all, this "DeltaMath" sounds like an online curriculum similar to the programs we use at our school (and mentioned in previous posts on this blog, such as IXL). I'm wary of giving an online assignment as homework, since I'm not sure whether everyone has Internet access and I don't want anyone saying "I don't have Internet" as an excuse not to do the homework.

  • Homework is not collected. To check the daily homework, I walk around with my clipboard during the bell ringer [similar to a Warm-Up in my class -- dw]. 
So this is Palacios and his homework policy. Let's compare this to my situation:

-- At the beginning of the year, I was told to get questions out of a workbook. There are five questions per day in the workbook, but these are mixed standards -- for example, questions on Statistics and Probability (not ordinarily addressed at the beginning of the year) appear right in the Week 1 questions. Knowing this, I told the students that they only had to answer some of the questions, such as 1 from Monday's set, 2 from Tuesday's set, and so on.
-- Then about a month into the year, Illinois State sends me an email stating that I should mix in "word walls" throughout the homework. The problem is that it's not obvious what students are supposed to do for these "word walls" -- they first have to wait for me to define the word. Then it's not always obvious what they are supposed to draw for each word. Notice that if this had been a Geometry class, nearly every term has an obvious drawing, But how, for example, are the eighth graders supposed to "draw" a square root?

In some ways, word walls fit well with Monday coding. On Mondays there are usually 20-25 minutes available before or after the coding lesson. I can begin the class with a Warm-Up, and then pass out the word walls. I can tell the students the words and the definitions, and they can draw the actual pictures as homework. But if it's not obvious what the students are supposed to draw, then I have to show them. In the end, I end up doing almost the entire assignment for them -- and they can easily finish the drawings right there in class on Monday for a "homework" assignment that's not due until the following Friday! This is clearly illogical -- especially when the students then go on to fail the quiz or test later that week due to lack of practice!

-- Now last week, after the Illinois State observation, the developers showed me the online portion of their curriculum, and even pointed out the links to the homework problems.

But now this leads to the same problem I mentioned with "DeltaMath" above -- I can't assume that my students all have Internet access to do the homework. Today I give my students a copy of the HW questions from the Illinois State site. But there are only three or four questions per unit -- and many of these are identical to the quiz questions! Indeed, Illinois State often repeats the same questions for the HW, quiz, and even the Student Journal -- especially in the sixth grade texts.

So here's what I'm doing now -- the questions I assign today are due Wednesday, not Friday. Then on Wednesday, I'll assign a Practice Quiz worksheet for HW (and I'll create the questions, not Illinois State) that will be due on Thursday, the day of the quiz. This is in fact the closest I'll get to the traditionalist HW ideal of "individual problem sets." (Notice that the original idea was to assign a HW "packet" on Monday and collect it on Friday. It never occurred to me to do as Palacios does and check the HW "packet" everyday during the Warm-Up!)

Let's see whether this will help improve student performance on the quiz. Indeed, I agree with Palacios wholeheartedly when he writes:

  • Disclaimer: developing a respectable system for homework is a goal of mine this year.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dren Quiz #3 and Student Journal: Square and Cube Equations (Days 44-45)

Today I have the students take their next Dren Quiz. Notice that I've made several changes to the Dren Quizzes since the last one I gave last month.

First, with Quizzes now at only 20% of the grade, I'm giving three Dren Quizzes each trimester rather than four. This dramatically alters the way these quizzes work. When I was going to have four Dren Quizzes per trimester and eleven of them the whole year, I started with 10's and then had the students work their way from 2's to 9's. The two extra quizzes meant that if a student fails (which means anything less than an A, or 45/50), that quiz is repeated, while the other students move on.

But now I'm only giving nine Dren Quizzes the whole year. This means that everyone, pass or fail, will be taking the same quiz. Today is the third quiz, so they will work on their 3's. But my "drop the lowest grade" policy applies to Dren Quizzes -- only two of them actually count. This isn't important now with the students working on 10's, 2's, and 3's. But in the third trimester, when the students work on the difficult 7's, 8's, and 9's, this will make a difference. Students who fail their 7's quiz can only make it up by passing the 8's and 9's quizzes -- which might be possible, since in my opinion, the 7's times tables are the most challenging.

Of course most of my students pass their 3's Dren Quiz today, but unfortunately, three students (two sixth graders and one eighth grader) ended up failing. There are issues with all three students that, due to their sensitive nature, I choose not to post here on the blog.

As I wrote earlier this week, there is now a multiplication table on my front board that runs from 4's to 9's, since the 3's Dren Quiz is complete. I might as well take advantage of the fact that all students are working on the same quiz, and encourage the students to learn their multiplication facts in time for the next quiz in December.

That's right -- December! The fourth Dren Quiz would have been in November, based on a schedule I posted earlier on the blog, but this has changed. As it turns out, today is a great day to give a Dren Quiz because of the earthquake drill. You see, on the third Thursday in October, every school in California is supposed to have an earthquake drill. In theory, the drill should be on 10/20 at 10:20, but ours is at 9:00 instead. In part, this is because at most elementary (and K-8) schools, 10:20 is right in the middle of someone's recess. Also, the other problem is the weather -- usually here in California, there's at least one rainy day and one 90+ degree day (Santa Ana winds) in October. We've actually had both such days this week, with today being the scorcher. So if the kids are stuck outside for 45 minutes, we'd all prefer it to be at 9:00 rather than 10:20. And there's just enough time before the drill for me to give my seventh graders the quiz.

Next year, I might simplify the Dren Quiz schedule so that they're given once a month. If I choose the 19th, one such quiz will fall on the date of next year's earthquake drill.

By the way, during the earthquake drill, I actually teach my students some science! First I show the sixth grade my yellow polo shirt, and I tell them that I chose it because light colors like yellow reflect heat -- this was one of the facts I mentioned during yesterday's impromptu lesson. Then the seventh graders look up at the sky and see the waning gibbous moon starting to set. (Notice that earthquakes themselves were part of the old California sixth grade earth science standards, but I'm not sure whether they appear in NGSS at all.)

The sixth and eighth graders had a full lesson today before the quiz. The eighth graders begin learning about solving square and cube equations, following this Common Core standard:

Use square root and cube root symbols to represent solutions to equations of the form x2 = p and x3 = p, where p is a positive rational number. Evaluate square roots of small perfect squares and cube roots of small perfect cubes. Know that √2 is irrational.

Meanwhile, the sixth graders are learning about tape diagrams and double line diagrams. These ideas are peculiar to Common Core, and I have to look these up myself before teaching them. Starting tomorrow, the seventh graders will learn about direct proportions of the form y = kx.

Here is the song for today. It leans towards the sixth and seventh grade lesson again because I thought that the earthquake drill would be at 10:20 (during 8th grade) rather than 9:00 (during 7th grade):


Sixteen notebooks,
They cost 88.
Tape Diagrams!
What's the unit rate?
Draw 16 boxes
So you won't get lost.
Four for 22 dollars,
Five-fifty unit cost.
Or you could write an equation...
Tape Diagrams!

Three-fourths of an hour,
To travel 12 miles.
Line Diagrams!
What's the speed meanwhile.
Draw a double line
For distance and for time.
Four in a quarter hour,
Sixteen M-P-H on the line.
Or you could write an equation...
Line Diagrams!

The "Day in the Life" blogger whose monthly posting day is the 20th is Kate Robbins:

Robbins is a high school teacher, though I can't tell which state she's from -- possibly Pennsylvania, since she does mention the Eagles in her post. No, she hasn't made her October 20th post, but I do see some interesting things in her September 20th and earlier posts:

Kate's class is highly dependent on technology. Her post begins with a picture of 15 Chromebooks, and much of her post discusses two online curricula that she uses in her classes. Her school and mine have one online curriculum in common -- IXL.

Oh, that reminds me -- Dr. Brad Christensen from Illinois State is meeting with me this upcoming Wednesday to discuss the text. I learned about its online component, and I'm already looking for opportunities to introduce the online curriculum in class. But the emphasis of this meeting is on the projects -- the cornerstone of the middle school curriculum. The meeting will be from 10:30-12:30 -- meaning that this will be the first time in my young career that I'll need a substitute teacher.

Meanwhile, notice that I haven't mentioned Sarah Carter's science lessons for some time. Carter has now moved on to a chemistry unit. The timing is interesting in that this upcoming Sunday is Mole Day -- the chemist's Pi Day. Mole Day is on October 23rd in honor of Avogadro's number, which is close to 6.02 * 10^23.

It might have been interesting to time my own science class so that a chemistry lesson is taught at some point close to Mole Day, but this is tricky. As I mentioned earlier, I end up sneaking in science lessons whenever I can teach them -- including during earthquake drills.

This is a two-day post, so my next post will be Monday.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Day of Observation (Day 43)

Today is the day of the Illinois State observation. Yes, the curriculum developers from England are in town today to watch us teach. By the way, the reason that they keep coming in to see us is that we are considered to be a pilot school for their program.

First of all, this is what the mixed-up Wednesday schedule looked like for me this week:

Period 1: 6th grade
Period 2: 6th grade
Period 3: 8th grade
Period 4: 7th grade (music cancelled)
Period 5: 7th grade (observation)

This means that I had extra time with both sixth and seventh grades -- and whenever I have extra time, I try to take advantage and teach science. According to our online science website, Engineering Design is a part of every middle school grade under the NGSS -- and the "Learning to Communicate" STEM project includes some questions on Engineering Design. So the science lessons fit well with today's project.

Here is an outline of what my period looks like today for the observation:

12:00 -- Warm-Up. I could give my usual problem where the answer is the date, but I know that Illinois State wants to see a warm-up question from its own website instead, so that's what I do.

12:10 -- Students complete the "Learning to Communicate" project. The last day of the project requires students to write a "journal entry" in which they answer four questions about why engineers draw sketches. (The answer, of course, is so that they can communicate their ideas with others.)

12:35 -- Exit Pass. Since there are actually five questions for the students to answer, I have the students answer the fifth question as an Exit Pass.

12:45 -- Dismissal to lunch.

During the Common Planning day meeting, the curriculum developers give all of us teachers a debriefing on the observation. They tell me that for the most part, the lesson went well. Most of the seventh graders finish the assignment -- the class was divided into seven groups, and of these, five and a half were working hard on the assignment. They praise my support staff member -- she did a great job keeping the students on task.

Throughout the lesson, I continued to correct students on the oblique and isometric drawings. I've said before that some students drew oblique cubes on the isometric paper and vice versa.

The developers tell me more about the online parts of this curriculum. I already have my students answer Warm-Up questions from the Illinois State website, but the main parts of the lesson can be taught online as well. If I were to do so, this would be third online curriculum (the one I use for Math Intervention, the one I use for science, and now Illinois State) implemented in the class.

Finally, I tell them about the previous project, the mousetrap cars, and the troubles that many of us had with them. They tell us that perhaps the wheels weren't put on tight enough -- and possibly I could have taped the wheels in place. This would have made it easier to load the string in so that the car can be launched. At any rate, Dr. Brad Christensen -- from Illinois State itself -- might be in town next week. He won't be there to observe a lesson, but just to help me with the projects. As I am reminded, the projects are the cornerstone of the curriculum, especially in middle school.

Well, I'm happy that at least the observation is over.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Meaning of a Day in the Life (Day 42)

This post fulfills my October blogging requirement for Tina Cardone's "A Day in the Life" project.

Before I write about my day, let me remind the readers that I'm a first-year teacher. According to Cardone, first-year teachers undergo several phases of attitudes towards teaching. On her special graph, October and November correspond to the Survival Phase. Bear this in mind as you read about October 18th, the forty-second day of school:

7:45 -- I arrive at my school.

8:00 -- I report to the playground, where many students are beginning to arrive. The students are told to gather in a circle for the flag salute.

8:25 -- My first class, a sixth grade class, begins.

8:45 -- The dean comes in and announces the start of the CELDT test -- the California English Language Development Test. All students classified as English Learners -- which about a third of the class -- go downstairs to take the test.

9:45 -- My sixth graders leave and my seventh graders arrive. Many of these students are still out taking the CELDT test.

11:05 -- My seventh graders leave for nutrition.

11:25 -- My eighth grade class arrives. I begin the class the same way I start all my classes, with a Warm-Up question:

Question: (x^3)^6 = x^?

The answer is 18 -- and of course today is the 18th.

11:35 -- Today is the second day of the project we've been working on. It is called "Learning to Communicate," and it is the fourth project of the Illinois State text. (I explained how the Illinois State text is project-based back in my August PD post.) The first four projects are the same for all three grades, and so this is the third time today that I'm giving this project. It was tricky, though, since many of the students are out for the CELDT. There are no eighth graders taking the test -- this class is just a smaller class anyway.

The project requires students to draw various 3D figures on two types of graph paper. The first part, given last Friday, was on oblique graph paper. Today we use isometric paper. I found the isometric paper using Google -- here is the first link:

Notice that the words "isometric" and "isometry" -- as in Common Core Geometry transformation -- are definitely related. Both mean "equal length" -- an isometry maps segments to segments of equal length, and on isometric paper, the sides of the cube are all the same length on the paper.

But some students struggled to draw a cube on the oblique paper on Friday, and so today I've already drawn some cubes and other figures on the isometric paper so students can just copy it. Yet many of the students still have trouble with it. They either try to draw an oblique cube on the isometric paper or merely draw a square.

I think back to the activity I gave back on the third day of school (which I mentioned back in my monthly post for August). I found the activity in another textbook, in a lesson called "Drawing in Perspective," even though the blocks were drawn obliquely or isometrically, not in perspective. In that lesson, the students drew "buildings," with most of them drawing flat rectangles. I've been hoping that they would improve after this lesson, but so far most of them haven't.

I'm a bit surprised that they're having trouble drawing cubes. I believe that I could draw an oblique cube in my early elementary years. But then again, I could never draw a person -- my figures weren't exactly stick figures, but they weren't much better. I reckon that there are several students who can draw lifelike human beings yet can't draw a cube. It is the difference between the "left brain" (the more analytic, mathematical side) and the "right brain" (the more artistic side).

12:05 -- Because I know how tough the 80-minute block schedule can be on middle school students, I provide a music break. My student support aide arrives during the music break. I get out my guitar and I play the following inspirational song:


1st Verse:
Involves many tools.
There's teaming, journaling,
And sketching in school.
When you draw the shapes,
To look 3D, like a cube.
Just compare it, then
Choose the best from your group.

Learning to communicate
Is what we all must do.
It's the meaning of life, too!

2nd Verse:
Not just with your friends.
If you're with someone else
The world won't come to an end.
It will be much better
If you talk to everyone.
Get along with others
Yeah, that's so much fun!

(Repeat Refrain)

12:15 -- At this point, a terrible incident occurs. I choose not to post the full details of the incident here on the blog due to its sensitive nature. To make a long story short, some students start writing a letter in hopes of getting another teacher at the school fired! My only involvement with the incident is that the letter is written during my math class. (My support aide is not sitting in a location where she can tell what the students were writing -- only I see and hear them.)

12:35 -- This is a good time to end the period with an Exit Pass. Students copy the following line:

Today, we drew 3D figures on isometric graph paper.
12:45 -- My eighth grade class goes out to lunch.
1:25 -- My sixth grade class returns for a special "Math Intervention" class. There is special software for this class. I spend much of the period making sure that the students all have the correct password.

The online lesson is on unit rates. This lesson is challenging, since students have to divide to find the unit rates, and many of the numbers they need to divide are multi-digit. No one makes it to the top score of 100, but many students make it to the 90's -- the software starts asking challenge questions once a student reaches 90.

As for the questions involving single-digit numbers, I continue my campaign to stop students from becoming "drens," or reverse-nerds who can't do simple arithmetic. Here's how it works -- this Thursday, the students are scheduled to take a "Dren Quiz" on their 3's times tables. So I draw a multiplication table on the board that goes from 3's to 9's. When the Dren Quiz begins, I'll erase the 3's from the table, so that only the 4's through 9's remain. The table will remain on the board until it's time for them to take their 4's Dren Quiz (probably in December). This way students can have help with the higher times tables but will have to learn them before they're erased.

2:25 -- My sixth graders go out to P.E. class.

3:20 -- All of the middle school teachers plus the fifth grade teacher (at our K-8 school) gather in the classroom of the teacher victimized by the smear letter. We all try to comfort the poor teacher, who is visibly upset.

4:00 -- I go home for the day and head for my computer to type up this blog entry.

Cardone provides us with five reflection questions to answer. I've decided that I'll only answer one of the questions each month except for those months in which the 18th falls on the weekend, since I feel that my posts are long enough without answering all five questions.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

This is followed by five sub-questions:

What has kept you going lately when it's gotten tough?
What was the most negative/positive part of your day?
What made you smile today? What are you looking forward to tomorrow/next school day?
What has been your biggest challenge lately?
What part(s) of your day were abnormal? How did you adjust to that?

Well, here are my answers to those questions:

1. One thing that has kept me going lately is the new book I bought. On Sunday, the last day of the annual Barnes and Noble Educator Appreciation Week sale, I got a recreational math book. It was Incredible Numbers by Professor Ian Stewart. This book contains chapters devoted to several important numbers -- the first ten natural numbers, 0, 1, rational numbers, irrational numbers, and even infinite numbers.

The last chapter of this book is devoted to the number 42 -- the "Meaning of Life" according to author Douglas Adams. Stewart writes that 42 is an interesting number indeed -- it is both "pronic" (the product of consecutive natural numbers) and a Catalan number, to boot. Today I read this final chapter first in honor of today being the 42nd day of school. Notice that I even incorporate this idea into the title of this post (not to mention today's song):

The Meaning of Life = 42

Adding "day" to both sides gives:

The Meaning of a Day in the Life = Day 42

And of course, "Day in the Life" is the name of the current blogging project. Then again, it's sad that after I sing a song about learning to communicate and getting along with others, the students use written communication to ruin my colleague.

(Oh, and the isometric pictures my students had to copy are on page 41 -- but the instructions on how to create your own drawings is on the next page!)

2. The most positive part of the day was seeing the sixth graders work well -- even though many of them are talkative, they are still hard-working. Some of them figure out how to draw the cubes correctly, and with a little guidance, they succeed on the online assignment. The most negative part of the day is the obvious incident.

3. The one thing I'm looking forward to tomorrow -- well, maybe I'm not actually "looking forward" to this, but it's definitely coming tomorrow -- is the Illinois State observation.

Recall that Illinois State is the publisher of our current math text. I've mentioned in my previous "Day in the Life" posts that Illinois State doesn't merely provide the text and the materials -- we are to submit biweekly reports with pictures of the projects and how well the students are performing them.

Well, the curriculum developers will actually be flying in tomorrow to observe all math teachers third grade and above. And this is from thousands of miles away -- I'm not sure whether it will be Brad Christensen from Illinois State or two other developers from all the way in England.

4. The biggest challenge -- well, I still want to reach my goal of ideal classroom management. This means that most consequences are warnings, and these are enough to end most misbehavior. At this point, I'm further away from that goal than ever. Those eighth graders who wrote the letter don't respect me much more than my colleague. Indeed, above both of us on the totem pole of respect is my support aide!

Whenever I tried to tell the eighth graders to stop writing and start doing the math project, their response was, "Don't yell at me!" I didn't even mention that I knew exactly what they were writing -- their response likely would have been that I had no right to eavesdrop on them!

5.The part of my day which was abnormal was the obvious incident. I apologize to my readers that this one incident has dominated much of this post -- but then again, this is a "Day in the Life" post, and the incident was a major part of the day.

The incident worries because, as I've stated, I'm the next lowest on the totem pole -- if the students are successful in causing my colleague to leave the school, they'll be going after me next! It gives new meaning to Cardone's Survival Phase -- the two of us really are trying to survive. And my colleague, though new at our school, isn't even a first-year teacher!

Tomorrow is our mixed-up Wednesday schedule. But this time, the schedule confusion is actually to our advantage. For you see, on this strange schedule, my colleague doesn't see the eighth graders at all on Wednesdays!

On the other hand, I'm not sure which grade I'll have during the Illinois State observation. The last time we had a Wednesday schedule, the seventh graders were in my room for music until 12:15 (i.e., a quarter-hour after the observation is supposed to begin). We may end up rearranging the rooms so that I can teach math at noon, but hopefully this won't result in my colleague having to deal with the eighth graders at any point.

(And this is not to mention that while I believe the CELDT testing is over, the test might have spilled over into tomorrow, which may affect the project, as it's supposed to be completed in groups.)

This ends my monthly "Day in the Life" post for October. My next scheduled monthly post will be November 18th, a Friday.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Learning to Communicate (Days 40-41)

You may notice that today is labeled as a two-day post, even though neither 40 nor 41 happens to be a multiple of three. The problem is that Day 42, the next multiple of three, is October 18th -- and the 18th is my monthly posting day for the "Day in the Life" project.

I had a choice -- I could post as originally scheduled on Day 41, a Monday (so all I'd write about is how the eighth graders are continuing to make a video with the coding teacher) and skip Tuesday, or I could write on the correct day for "Day in the Life" and skip Monday. So now that I put it this way, it's a no-brainer.

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, none of the 18th days of the any month from now until summer is a multiple of three, so this problem won't happen again. But for this month, I will skip Monday and post thrice in a row, on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, to accommodate "Day in the Life."

There are several things I want to discuss in this post. First, yesterday marked the arrival of Bruin Corps to my classroom. The name "Bruin Corps" refers to UCLA -- the program consists of students who are paid to work at our school and tutor students who are failing.

My Bruin Corps tutor is a junior biology major who'll be in my room on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I assigned him a group of three students in each grade who are struggling in the class. Notice that this was yesterday, right before the test. As it turned out, his extra help produced mixed results -- some of the sixth and seventh graders he tutored ended up passing the test, but not the eighth graders. Then again, the laws of exponents are sometimes difficult for students seeing them for the first time.

Since my eighth graders had just finished a math test, I decided to use the extra intervention time on Thursday when they'd normally use the computers for science instead, especially now that I no longer have that extra hour with them on Wednesdays. And as their last science lesson was on earth, moon, and sun, I decided to give them another lesson on "Earth's Place in the Universe." Students learned about the solar system and the force which holds it together -- gravity.

But recall that my Bruin Corps tutor is a bio major. I feel that I should find a way to take advantage of his expertise, especially since I'm weaker in life science than in physical science. Even though the eighth grade NGSS test ought to be mostly physical science, our online curriculum shows that there could be some life science topics on the test. including the Growth, Development, and Reproduction of Organisms. The Bruin Corps schedules haven't stabilized yet, but if my tutor is present on a Thursday during computer time, I will definitely use that time for a life science lesson.

By the way, I find it exciting to have Bruin Corps in the classroom because I myself am an alumnus of UCLA -- I earned by bachelors degree in math in 2002 and my masters degree in 2003. In honor of Bruin Corps, my song for today can be sung to the tune of the UCLA fight song:


To find the mighty unit rate,
All you do is divide.
The answer, two dots, and then a one,
Right on the other side.
And if you have a fraction,
There's no need to hate.
Flip the second and then you'll find,
The mighty unit rate!
U! N! I! T!
U-N-I-T! Rate! Rate! Rate!

Please don't be sad,
To multiply powers, just add.
And it is a fact,
To divide powers, just subtract.
Zero powers are fun,
'Cause the answer's always one.
Don't be negative, don't frown,
To get rid of them, move down.
U! N! I! T!
U-N-I-T! Rate! Rate! Rate!

Notice that this song fits the Grades 6-7 lesson much better than eighth grade -- the lyrics to the song which inspired this is "U-C-L-A! Fight! Fight Fight!" I shoehorned the words from the previous song just so that the eighth graders won't feel left out -- unfortunately nothing from the exponent lesson seems to fit as well as "unit rate" does.

Now let's get to today's main lesson. Learning Module 4 of the Illinois State text is called "Learning to Communicate." It is the last module of Unit 0, "Tools for Learning" -- the unit that is common to all three grade-level STEM texts. In this activity, students are to draw various three-dimensional figures -- a cube, pyramid, cylinder, and cone -- using both "oblique" and "isometric" graph paper.

In many ways, this is a continuation of the lesson I gave back on the third day of school. Recall that this lesson, though influenced by MTBoS blogger Fawn Nguyen, was originally inspired by Lesson 1-5 of the U of Chicago Geometry text, "Drawing in Perspective." As the U of Chicago points out, the oblique view of a cube isn't actually in perspective. True perspective (that is, with a vanishing point) is awkward with any sort of graph paper and indeed doesn't appear in this module.

I found the oblique graph paper easily -- I just Googled "oblique graph paper" and the following link was the first result:

Even with the graph paper, some of the students have trouble drawing a cube. But I'll give the details in my next post, as I want to save something for "Day in the Life" (especially since the activity is not yet complete, and the students will continue this on Tuesday after their day of coding).

Speaking of "Day in the Life," the blogger with a monthly posting date of the 14th is Tina Cardone -- the leader of the project herself. But Cardone hasn't made her October 14th post yet -- and she's fallen behind in posting links to the blog posts submitted by the other participants. (Of course, we all know how busy we teachers can be!)

My next post will be on Tuesday, and that will be my official monthly post for "Day in the Life."

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Whiteboard Review and Test #3 (Days 38-39)

Tomorrow is Yom Kippur. the other day that Los Angeles schools, including my own charter school, is closed. Notice that this closure has nothing to do with Columbus Day. As we've seen in past years on the blog, some California schools completely close for Columbus Day, while others have a Professional Development Day for teachers.

Even though my school doesn't call it Columbus Day, my school does refer to the day off as "Indigenous Peoples Day." When I was looking up the Kevin Cormier article on Huffington Post last week, I found another article about the origin of the name "Indigenous Peoples Day":

As it turns out, the author of this article is another high school teacher -- Bill Bigelow. He writes about an activity that he does in his history classes:

I taught high school social studies for almost 30 years. One of my first activities in my high school U.S. history classes was to steal a student’s purse. Yes, I wanted to capture students’ attention at the beginning of the school year, but I also wanted them to think about whose lives are valued—and whose aren’t—in the traditional curriculum.

Bigelow explains that many schools and colleges have chosen to observe Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day -- and that list includes my own charter school. My home state of California doesn't recognize Indigenous Peoples Day, but two states do: South Dakota and Vermont.

I've mentioned before on the blog that Columbus Day is on the second Monday in October because October 12th is the day that the explorer landed in the New World -- not because of his birthday. It's just a coincidence that October 12th this year is Yom Kippur, allowing my school to recognize it as Indigenous Peoples Day.

Next year, Rosh Hashanah is on Thursday, September 21st, 2017, and Yom Kippur is a week later on Saturday, September 30th. When either High Holiday falls on a Sabbath, the district does not take an extra day off (as it does for Veteran's Day, also on a Saturday in 2017). So I'm not sure whether there will even be any Indigenous People Day holiday on the 2017-18 calendar.

Today's lesson is a whiteboard review for Thursday's test, which is on exponents. I continue to have my students write down which law of exponents they are using to simplify each expression.

Here is today's song, which refers to the 6th-7th grade lesson as well:


Take a ratio table,
Fill it in if you're able.
Take a ratio graph,
Count it up, just for laughs.
Remember everyday,
How to find the constant k.
Hurry now, don't wait,
Divide to find the rate.

Please don't be sad,
To multiply powers, just add.
And it is a fact,
To divide powers, just subtract.
Zero powers are fun,
'Cause the answer's always one.
Don't be negative, don't frown,
To get rid of them, move down.

The "Day in the Life" blogger for the 11th of the month is Bernadette Scheetz. I couldn't find her home state quickly from her blog, but I do know that she's a fellow middle school teacher!

Here's a link to her October 11th post:

No, Scheetz isn't teaching her students about exponents, but one of her lessons sounds familiar:

9:13 am - 3rd period. My honors kids come back, and work on practicing the skill of changing decimals to fractions. This time I throw some terminating decimals in there just to make sure they are attending to precision (Math Practice #6). With 10 minutes left to the period, we talk about the answers, and challenging questions. Homework is passed out/discussed.

Here "Math Practice #6" refers to the Common Core Standards. As we've seen before, the Math Practices are controversial among some Core opponents.

Scheetz writes that her 7th graders are supposed to be learning about adding and subtracting integers, but it ended up turning into fraction practice. Recall that the standards refer to operations on rational numbers, not integers. She writes:

My students have shown a lack of fraction concept understanding. At the 7th grade level, they should be fluently doing all operations with fractions so that when it comes time to have positive and negative fractions, they can build on previous understandings.  However, that's not always the case.

More accurately, she should write "However, that's almost never the case." We already know that hardly any student is actually fluent with fractions.

This is a two-day post, and with Yom Kippur tomorrow, the second day of this post isn't until Thursday, which is the day of the test. Therefore my next post will be on Friday.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Coding: The Video Project (Day 37)

Today is a coding Monday, and the students are doing different projects based on grade level. The sixth graders are continuing to learn about cyber safety, while the seventh graders are beginning to code in the computer language Scratch.

As usual, I'll more on the eighth graders on the blog. The class is divided into groups of 4-5, and each group is to create an instructional video of about 2-3 minutes. Here I use the term "instructional" loosely -- for example, one group plans on making a video to teach characters how to escape being tortured in horror movies! The project should last the rest of the trimester. As fun as it may be for you readers to watch the videos, I don't post anything that could identify students here on the blog.

So this will be another Monday post where I talk about other issues on my mind besides math class. I begin by mentioning that at Barnes and Noble, this is Educator Appreciation Week, where teachers get a 25% discount. I decided to purchase The Everything Parent's Guide to Common Core Science: Grades 6-8, by Laurie Bloomfield. This is definitely where I need more information.

Here is the table of contents for Bloomfield's book:

1. What are the Common Core Standards?
2. What are the Next Generation Science Standards?
3. How can you help your child be successful?
4. Writing Science and Technical Subjects
5. Reading in Science
6. The Three Dimensions of Science
7. Matter and Its Interactions
8. Motion and Stability -- Forces and Interactions
9. Energy
10. Waves and Their Applications
11. From Molecules to Organisms -- Structures and Processes
12. Ecosystems -- Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
13. Heredity -- Inheritance and Variation of Traits
14. Biological Evolution -- Unity and Diversity
15. Earth's Place in the Universe
16. Earth's Systems
17. Earth and Human Activity
18. Engineering Design
19. Science Fair Projects

This may seem like an overwhelming amount of science, but we must keep in mind that this covers the NGSS for all three middle school grades. The big problem I have, of course, is that the division of these standards into grades is state-specific. Furthermore, California has a special NGSS test for eighth graders, and so I want to make sure that I'm teaching my eighth graders anything that may appear on that test. One of my school's online curricula mentions California State Standards for eighth grade, and so that website is still my main source for science information.

So far, I've taught two science lessons. The first was on Motion and Forces and so corresponds to Chapter 8 of Bloomfield's book. The other was on the earth, moon, and sun. This appears in Chapter 15 of her book.

Meanwhile, today is the tenth of the month, so here's a link to Elissa Miller. I've mentioned her blog before -- she was a participant in the MTBoS30 challenge in May (and she actually completed all thirty posts)! Well, she also joined the "Day in the Life" challenge, and her monthly posting day is, of course, the tenth.

So far Miller hasn't wriiten her October 10th post. (In May she was the perfect blogger, but October is another story.) Here's a link to an interesting post of hers, dated September 26th:

Miller writes about a time when she was supposed to teach constructions in Geometry, but she didsn't know how to perform the construction! So what did she do?

Admit it. Show room for growth, Use growth mindset on your own set of teaching skills. Explain your old thinking and how that changed or hit an obstacle. Explain your new thinking.

I won't be surprised if there's a point this year -- especially during a science lesson -- where I won't fully understand the material myself. Thanks, Miss Miller, for giving me some pointers on how to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Student Journal: Exponents (Days 35-36)

I didn't purchase only math books at the library book sale -- I also got a science book. It is Concepts in Science, the so-called "Newton edition," dated 1975. I can't tell what grade level it's for, especially considering how science standards have changed in the past 40 years. It very well could be a text for elementary school.

Here is the table of contents -- unit titles only, not chapter titles:

1. The Bounce of Sound
2. The Bounce of Light
3. The Travels of a Drop of Water
4. The Travels of a Breath of Air
5. The Travels of a Handful of Soil
6. The Fall of a Tree
7. The Journeys of a Salmon and a Duck
8. Free -- Within a System

Of course, as a math teacher, I'm having trouble teaching science -- and even the elementary school teachers like our fifth grade teacher may need to teach science beyond the Illinois State text. Our school is working on perhaps having a group of students participate in a science competition.

In math, we're returning to traditional lessons in the "Student Journal." The eighth graders are now starting to work with exponents, in accordance with the following standard:

Know and apply the properties of integer exponents to generate equivalent numerical expressions. For example, 32 × 3-5 = 3-3 = 1/33 = 1/27.

Theoretically, each Learning Module in the Illinois State STEM text is associated with a particular standard and lesson in the Student Journal. But this isn't true of the first four modules -- these appear in all three grade levels, but they don't correspond to traditional lessons for all three grades.

So I decided to go through the Student Journal in order. The journal is arranged so that all the standards are followed in the naive order given by the Common Core. We already finished all of the Number System standards, and so we move on to Expressions and Equations. As it turns out, it's logical to cover standards 8.EE.A.1 and 8.EE.A.2 on exponents now, since Learning Module 5 in the STEM text corresponds readily to standards 8.EE.A.3 and 8.EE.A.4 on scientific notation.

Today's lesson is mostly on negative exponents. Of course, I give my students the classic example:

2^3 = 8
2^2 = 8/2 = 4
2^1 = 4/2 = 2
2^0 = 2/2 = 1
2^-1 = 1/2
2^-2 = (1/2)/2 = 1/4
2^-3 = (1/4)/2 = 1/8

and so on. Negative (and zero) exponents are notoriously confusing for students to remember -- as are the Laws of Exponents, which I'll be teaching tomorrow. After all, think about it -- anything to the zero power is one? Negative exponents are reciprocals. To multiply powers, we add something?

Sixth graders are beginning unit rates, and seventh graders learn about constants of proportionality. I sing the following song, which incorporates lessons from all three grades. The opening lines about a girl making jewelry comes from the sixth grade Student Journal:


A girl makes jewelry,
Four red for every white bead.
If there are ten white,
How many red beads will she need?
The proportionality constant is four,
It is no less and no more.
It is what you multiply,
The number of white beads by
To get forty red beads.

A girl writes a big two,
The four next to it is small.
What is this equal to,
Hey what does it mean at all?
The number exponent is four,
It is no less and no more.
It's how many times you multiply,
The number base itself by
To get the answer 16.

Today is the sixth, and so we look at Dawneen Zabinske, whose posting day is the sixth:

It took a while for me to find Ms. Z's blog as the link provided to me was incorrect. I'm glad I found the link, because Ms. Z is a South Carolina middle school teacher.

Ms. Z hasn't written her October 6th post yet. But there are some interesting things in some of her older posts, including her September 6th post:

Ms. Z teaches both sixth and seventh grade math this year. Her school is sort of like military school, and so her classes are divided into all-male and all-female "cadets."

She writes about some of the behavior problems she is having:

The intervention centers around a achieving a goal for the week. The class started with zero points and points are added every 5 minutes they are compliant with the rules: 40 minutes of class = 8 points. They can also earn additional points for asking a relevant question or answering another student's question or coming to the board to work a problem. However, if they begin to break from the rules, they can lose a point for each 5 minutes they are off task. This worked for about a week and they got close to their goal but didn't quite make it. I have tried rearranging seat assignment. I have tried having students write a discipline essay about their behavior and ways to correct it. I have called or texted parents; I have submitted teacher-managed incident referrals to the office. It's only a few that are causing the disruptions every day; and it's not just my class - it's every class. Usually this point system has worked at least for a few months and a few rewards. I'm seeing with this group - I'm probably going to have to go with individual points/rewards or split the group into two and offer a competition between groups. I might eliminate the taking away of points so to focus more on the positive and less on the negative.

In earlier posts, I mentioned a similar point/minute system, and I must admit that so far I'm not having much more luck than Ms. Z is. Right now my plan is to schedule a computer day right after two key days when I'm hoping that the behavior will improve -- more on this when I reach my own monthly posting day.

By the way, when I was looking for the correct link for the 6th, I actually found something written by the poster for the 30th, Kevin Cormier. But it's not a blog post or a "Day in the Life" entry -- it's actually an article written for Huffington Post:

The article is dated October 3rd, three days after Cormier's scheduled posting day. He writes about using data to guide instruction. My own school is big on data-driven instruction -- indeed, we are to have a "data wall" where students can easily access their data.

Oh, and speaking of middle school, I have no plans to watch James Patterson's Middle School movie that comes out this weekend.

This is a two-day post, so I don't post tomorrow. It means that I'm only posting twice this week, when my goal is to post thrice a week -- this actually happens a few times this year when there's a Monday holiday and both Tuesday and Friday are multiples of three. But each time this happens, it means that the previous week was a four-post week, with entries on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. So in the end, it works out to average about three posts per week.

My next post will be on Monday.